Latest news and happenings of Afghanistan and region…
Kabul: There is one person who risks being left behind in Afghanistan even as the US moves to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by September 11. Mark Frerichs, a contractor from Lombard, Illinois, believed to be held for more than a year by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, was not mentioned in President Joe Biden’s address on Afghanistan last week.
The troop withdrawal also did not condition his release from custody, fueling concerns that the US could lose bargaining power to get Frerichs home once its military presence is removed from the country.
“We do not have any leverage now since we have announced to the world and to the Taliban and the Haqqanis that we’re going to pull out. So, it is utterly disheartening,” said Michael Waltz, a Florida Republican and Green Beret who served in Afghanistan.
The US had announced that it will ensure safety of all those on ground in Afghanistan, but it seems unlikely that for a single captive the broader policy interest in ending a 20-year war will shift. It’s not uncommon for detainee issues to be eclipsed by other foreign policy matters, as appeared to happen last week when the administration didn’t mention Russia’s detention of two Americans, even as it announced reasons for taking punitive action against Moscow.
Kabul: Adding to the criticism faced by US President Joe Biden regarding his announcement of withdrawal of troops by September 11, US Republican Utah Senator Mitt Romney on Thursday said that the decision will have “serious consequences”.
Romney, who is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, criticized Biden’s decision after attending a Senate briefing with administration officials about the withdrawal plan on Wednesday. He added the decision will harm US national security and human rights in the Middle East.
“Following today’s frank and candid briefing from Administration officials, I believe that the President’s plan to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by September is an error that could have serious consequences for our national security interests,” Romney said in a statement.
Like other security experts have suggested, including Biden’s own generals, Romney recommended that the US maintain a small number of troops in Afghanistan to keep violence at bay. Without an American military presence, the Taliban will allow Al Qaeda and ISIS to flourish,” he said.
Earlier too, many security have said that a hasty exit from Afghanistan might lead the country to fall into the wrong hands even as a peace agreement is yet to be finalized.
Kabul: Reiterating their stance, the deputy president’s spokesperson, Fatema Morchal, on Thursday said that said the Taliban had no commitment to establish peace.
“The Taliban’s non-participation in the Istanbul summit shows that the group has no commitment to peace and political understanding at all,” Morchell said in a video message.
As per her, the Afghan government welcomes any action that will lead to lasting peace in the country. Istanbul was scheduled to be the host of peace talks for Afghanistan on April 24. The summit would discuss the future government of Afghanistan; however, Turkish Foreign Minister said the meeting had been postponed until after Ramadan.
Earlier, President Ghani had said that the Afghan government was fully prepared to attend the Istanbul summit; the Taliban group, however, had said that it would not attend peace talks until foreign troops were fully withdrawn from Afghanistan.
Kabul: To give more momentum to the now postponed peace talks, a trilateral meeting between the foreign ministers of Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan has been scheduled to take place in Istanbul on April 23.
“Apart from the Afghan peace process, cooperation in the fields of security, energy, connectivity and irregular migration are slated to be discussed during the meeting,” said a Foreign Ministry statement. The Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar had left for Turkey to attend a trilateral meeting between Afghanistan, Turkey and Pakistan on Thursday.
Apart from the trilateral meeting, bilateral meetings between the foreign ministers has also been scheduled with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.
Focal point of the meeting will be the resumption of peace talks abetween the Afghan government and the Taliban; strengthening of a regional consensus to support peace, the role of Turkey and Pakistan and the strengthening of trilateral relations.
The Turkish minister had recently said that after consulting with the United Nations, Qatar and the United States, the Istanbul meeting on Afghanistan peace would be held. It has been postponed to a time after Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr.
Turkey, Qatar and the United Nations also issued a joint statement on Wednesday confirming the postponement of the Istanbul summit. The Taliban has refused to attend any peace conference till all foreign troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan.
Kabul: The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) on Thursday reported 196 new positive cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) infection in the last 24 hours.
The ministry also reported four deaths and 41 recoveries from COVID-19 in the last 24 hours.
The total number of cases now stand at 58,542, while the number of reported deaths is 2,565 and the total number of recoveries is 52,347.
The new cases were reported in Kabul, Herat, Kandahar, Balkh, Nangarhar, Takhar, Kunduz, Nimroz, Paktia, Parwan, Bamiyan, Kapisa, Logar, Kunar, Laghman, Panjshir, Farah, Sar-e Pul and Paktika provinces.
Kabul: There is no reason to continue the war as foreign troops are leaving the country and now the Taliban should work towards rebuilding the country with unity and determination, said President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani on Thursday in Kandahar.
Ghani visited Kandahar province leading a delegation and when he inaugurated the province’s 200-bed hospital, the president made the comments.
While inaugurating the Mohmand International Hospital, the President said that the construction of this hospital, like the construction of Kamal Khan Dam, is an honor for all Afghans. “Today is a new chapter in the history of healthcare in Afghanistan. High-ranking government officials who fall ill, will first be treated at the hospital here and, if necessary, go abroad for treatment,” the President added.
Kabul: Carrying the bodies of the four civilians who had been targeted by the Taliban while they were travelling from Lal Sar-e-Jangal district to Firuzkuh on Wednesday, hundreds of residents the district of Ghor province staged a protest on Thursday.
Chants of “Enough is enough, justice and death to terrorism”, echoed across the streets as they called for the perpetrators of the shootings to be identified and punished.
Four civilians were shot dead by Taliban militants in the Dawlat-e-Yar district of Ghor province on Wednesday. According to sources, one of the victims was the director of agriculture in Lal Sar-e-Jangal district, and the other three were students.
Protesters issued a warning that the Kabul-Firuzkuh highway will be closed for two days (Garmab and Sar-e-Jangal) until the perpetrators of the incident were identified and punished.
The incident comes when the governor of Ghor went to Lal Sar-e-Jangal district to reassure the people that the Kabul-Ghor highway was safe. The highway, which connects to the center of Ghor province, is extremely vulnerable and Taliban insurgents have repeatedly killed civilians along the way. Hence, residents took out the protest.
Kabul: Discussions on ensuring safety of troops returning from Afghanistan is the priority in Washington currently, even as top US military commanders have sought the approval of the Pentagon to deploy an aircraft carrier near Afghanistan.
The move comes even as the US is prepping up to drawdown from war-ravaged Afghanistan safely by September 11. The Defence Department had earlier also hinted at an increase in the number of troops before the withdrawal who would help the boots on the ground.
US President Joe Biden announced last week that the United States will withdraw its remaining 2,500 troops from Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the al Qaeda attacks that triggered America’s longest war.
The suggestion to use an aircraft carrier during withdrawal is common in the US as it had recently deployed an aircraft carrier near Somalia when it withdrew troops from that country to protect its assets there. The Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier is currently in the Middle East.
The US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had not yet approved the request, but was expected to decide in the coming days.
The US Central Command has not commented on the matter yet. Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, head of US Central Command, earlier this week said that the military would protect troops during the withdrawal.
Kabul: In another report of increasing violence across the country, Taliban insurgents beheaded five government forces who had surrendered on the outskrits of the Maidan Shahr, local officials in Maidan Wardak province said on Thursday.
Sardar Bakhtiari, deputy head of Maidan Wardak Provincial Council, said that the incident took place two nights ago in the village of Mulakhail in Maidan Shahr and these forces guarded a checkpoint called “Antenn”. The reason for the surrender of these forces is not clear.
He stressed, however, that they were equipped with advanced equipment.
According to the deputy head of Maidan Wardak Provincial Council, the Taliban took all the equipment of the checkpoint with them.
The Taliban have not commented on the matter yet.
Kabul: In a series of rally meetings, the UN envoy for Afghanistan Deborah Lyons on Thursday concluded several days of consultations in Doha with Afghan parties and international partners on the best way forward to strengthen and add impetus to intra-Afghan peace negotiations.
In a series of tweets, UNAMA stated “there will be no pause in work to support Afghan peace negotiations. UN is continuing its engagement with both Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and Taliban representatives, to maintain a focus on peace efforts and the path to a just and durable peace settlement”.
The UN, Turkey and Qatar issued a joint statement on Wednesday announcing the postponement of the Istanbul Conference which was scheduled for April 24. The Taliban has refused to participate in any conference until all foreign troops have withdrawn from the country.
UNAMA said that the postponement “provides another opportunity for the Afghan parties to demonstrate progress in the current Doha Afghan peace negotiations. There should be no stone unturned in Afghan efforts to find peace”.
The mission also stated that the UN will ramp up its engagement in support of an Afghan peace and end of the Afghanistan war. “The UN’s impartiality and ability to convene is at the disposal of Afghans and international actors working for peace, especially regional states,” it tweeted.
UNAMA also stated it will continue its work with Afghan women, youth, media, victims and civil society to support their vital role in the development of an inclusive peace.
Kabul: At least one police official died and two others have been wounded in a Taliban attack at a police checkpoint in the Parwan province, security officials said on Thursday.
The incident took place at 9pm on Wednesday in the Sar Sayad area of Parwan province. As per media reports, the Taliban fled from the scene on a motorcycle after the attack.
The Taliban have not commented on the matter yet.
Meanwhile, in the Sar Sayad area of Parwan province, security forces are occasionally targeted by the Taliban. Civil society activists in Parwan province say that if the government does not take action to clear the area of Taliban infiltration, more security problems will occur in the area.
Kabul: Taliban insurgents abducted five people in Maidan Shahr on Wednesday, the provincial capital, said local officials of the Maidan Wardak province.
The abduction took place at No. 2 highway in the village of Malakhail in Maidan Shahr, said Mohammad Hofiani, spokesperson for the Maidan Wardak police.
Hofiani added that the abductees were traveling from Jalriz district to Maidan Shahr. According to him, they were traveling in a vehicle and then, the Taliban took them to an unknown place.
A spokesperson for the Maidan Wardak Police confirmed that a person named “General Mohammad Hussain” was among those abducted. He did not give more details about their identities.
The Taliban have not commented on the issue yet.
Kabul: India plans to step-up military training and assistance to Afghanistan as foreign troops are set to withdraw from the country by September 11.
India is one of the regional players who will have a lot to gain or lose depending on the stability of Afghanistan. The steps will help enhance bilateral defence cooperation and the way forward was discussed during a meeting between Army chief general M M Naravane and Afghan ambassador Farid Mamundzay.
“The Afghan National Defense & Security Forces (ANDSF) have developed great capacity and strength over the past 20 years. ANDSF still requires timely support to further build professional, capable and self-sustaining security forces. Thank you India and Gen Naravane for supporting ANDSF,” said Mamundzay, in a tweet on Wednesday.
In the recent past, India has supplied military hardware, including four Mi-25 armed helicopters, to Afghanistan as well as trained thousands of its military personnel in counter-terrorism operations, military field-craft, intelligence-gathering and information technology.
Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat had warned recently that there is an urgent need to ensure peace in the war-ravaged country so that there is no vacuum created in Afghanistan for the disruptors to set in. In fact, US President Joe Biden had also mentioned that India, Pakistan and Russia have a great role to play in order to maintain peace in the region.
Kabul: Nearly $300 million in additional aid is being planned for Afghanistan in 2021, said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“The aid is meant to sustain and build on the gains of the past 20 years by improving access to essential services for Afghan citizens, promoting economic growth, fighting corruption and the narcotics trade, improving health and education service delivery, supporting women’s empowerment, enhancing conflict resolution mechanisms, and bolstering Afghan civil society and independent media,” Blinken said in a statement.
US President Joe Biden last week announced that the US and NATO forces will withdraw their troops from Afghanistan ending their longest war which lasted for 20 years. In fact, his Secretary of State Blinken even came to Kabul just after the announcement to show the Afghan government US’ commitment to the country. Former US President Donald Trump had reached an agreement with the Taliban to withdraw US forces by May 1 as per the Doha agreement. Biden’s pushing back the deadline angered the insurgent group, which said the move was a violation of the agreement.
Over the course of the US involvement in Afghanistan, more than 2,200 US troops have been killed and 20,000 wounded. It is estimated that the US has spent more than $1 trillion on the war, America’s longest.
According to the World Bank, more than half of Afghans live on less than $1.90 a day. It is also considered one of the worst countries for women’s rights, according to the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security.